Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Truth Be Told

Women have it tough in our world. With all the odds against them, they have put up a great fight and shown the level of strength that can put anyone to shame. All this leads to the oft repeated statements like ‘the world would be a better place if women ruled it’.  This statement is quite an ego booster and at times the closing comment of many arguments. The reality is quite different and bitter, as our daily encounters tell us.

One such recent brush with reality happened in the audio visual departments of one of the top medical colleges of the country. The schematics there are such that the women are in majority, including the head of the department. Among the male employees, there is a deaf and dumb individual, who has a MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) from Punjab University and is appointed on pure merit bases.

The expectation here would be that that his colleagues have a combination of admiration and soft spot for him, given his efforts to support his family with a lot going against him (A year ago he was diagnosed with kidney failure & went through transplantation). 

This employee’s life has been made hell at his work place in every possible manner. He is being cornered all the time, while the rest of the department goes about their work. Isolating him is not where this ends. When a third party intervened trying to solve the unseen problem, the head had a long list of complaints and they are quite interesting in their content. The high lights include:

  • He sits in the same room, the women are in majority and they feel uncomfortable in his presences as they can’t talk among themselves with much ease.
  • He takes a few minutes’ walk (something he has to do because otherwise his legs swell) after every hour on campus, which in her opinion makes the students uncomfortable. The students have never made any such complain. 
  • Then she had a lot to say about his sister who at times picks and drops him.
  • His presence is the source of overcrowding the ‘just four’ spacious offices that she has under her command.
  • She can’t attend a senior doctor in the rooms due to his presence.

The list is a long one and has a lot of other similar serious allegations, none of which have anything to do with the quality of his work or anything that is somehow related to the workplace.

Handing over the world to women is not going to make things different. Power in whatever shape has a strange effect on people and women have fallen in the general line as well, except for few exceptions. Many a time a woman is suffering at the hands of another woman only. All these morons that are out there have not materialized from outer space, a major responsibility is on parenting and a lot of hypocrisy is going on in that department that calls for some serious attention. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Life of Pi

As a general I am of the opinion that books should not be adapted for the screen as they are never able to live up to the narrative. Added to this, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was considered by many as one of those books which won’t get to the big screen, given the style of the narrative. This got negated by Ang Lee’s film by the same name in 3D.

The story starts where a writer is looking for ideas and is directed towards the adult version of Pi (played by Irfan Khan), who agrees to narrate the story which will amaze the write & make him believe in God. His narration starts from the childhood of Pi Patel & his curiosity about God & different religions, something that did not go well with his father’s viewpoints. The family packs up their zoo & takes a freighter to America with the animals, which is hit by a severe storm & drowns it. 

Pi (played by Suraj Sharma, a new comer) is forced to escape on a lifeboat with a couple of the animals who are later joined by ‘Richard Parker’, the Bengal Tiger. While waiting for rescue in the start, only Richard Parker survives from the band of animals that join Pi on the lifeboat.

From here on their relationship starts, which is at times, like that of a domestic pet & at times it’s a typical frightening wild one. Pi looks for ways in which he can ensure Richard Parker’s survival & that in return given him hope for his own survival as well. There are scenes where the mighty Bengal tiger acts just any domestic cat. I for one could not stop making parallels with my own pet. 

The movie however, lacks at being able to convey the philosophical narrative from the book. However, what the movie lacks it covers for in the amazing 3D effects that have been used, quality acting by Suraj Sharma, who portrayed the varying emotions with perfection and most of all the creation of the new non-human favorite character of Richard Parker.  

All in all it is worth spending your time & money on.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Digital Vandalism by Conduit

There is new viral marketing in town, introduced by Conduit which I have titled as harassment. They have been so ruthless that when you start Googling for a remedy, a lot of sites are going to tell you that it is a spyware infecting your system. It is not a spyware but a new copy cat (at least as far as I am concerned) search engine that is hell bent on, forcing you to use it.

The simple outlook has clearly been picked up or as they say inspired by Google minus the creativity. For those who might be wondering, no I am not getting anything out of Google for this promotion. This is a very personal thing, as I had to reinstall my browser for the 60th time, because the changing the settings is obviously not working for me.

The marketing team behind this idea of introducing their browser needs to be kicked real hard. This is not marketing, but digital vandalism.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Swat – Our Uncelebrated Gift from Nature

Stereotyping is something we all are quite familiar with, as we go through it on a regular basis. Mention the word Pakistan & the usual statements and associations are listed out for you. So it is not surprising that when someone visits, all their preceding views come crumbling down. 

‘This is the story of the outside world’, sadly not. When it comes to stereotyping & image building the majority of the Pakistanis also don’t bother to take a different route and are all too happy to follow in the footsteps of the ‘outside world’. I recently had a similar personal experience when I got to tag along with my mother to Swat, for a medical conference at Saidu Medical College. Personally I never knew that there was one in Swat & a lot of the people from the medical profession are guilty of this ignorance.

Anyone who got to know that we were going to Swat, would follow with a one worded WHY? Some went even further when they saw that their full of expressions, why question wasn’t getting any second thoughts, they took great pains to elaborate that going there was a stupid thing to do. The Talibans are roaming free & there is no peace, the operation didn’t really work etcetera. My mother even got reprimanded for especially taking me along. When the plan survived all these verbal attacks, it was made sure that we have chaadars cum burqas with us, which we were instructed to don when we reached 50 meters of Swat.

This was the image with which we started off a ten hours road trip to Swat from Lahore.

Fast forward to when we entered the 50 meters mark, and thankfully before following the given instructions blindly, we had the sense of looking out the car windows. Even though I tried my best to look for all the said danger, all I could see was the very familiar morning school hour rush & the related buzz. Groups of children (both boys & girls); going to school on foot, in their vans & other with their parents. It took some time to absorb this normalcy. What followed was the spell that the mesmerizing beauty casted on the visitors. 

The management had arranged for entertainment sessions at the end of the conference sessions for all three days. There were musical evenings on the first two days. Each day a different local singer was invited and the event lasted around 1am in the morning. The students behaved just like any other set of students that one comes across. There were dance performances and a lot of noise, features that are a sort of trade mark of such events.

When it came to the outing section, they too didn't reek of any special treatment. All the delegates along with the students & faculty of the college were loaded in buses & taken to enjoy what the city had to offer & believe you me, it has loads to offer.

As far as the natural beauty of the place is concerned I will leave it to the following pictures from my collection, as words will fail me in that section.

Then the people; the modernity, diversity, education, women hating and all dressed up in the same attire. I didn’t come across any such breed there. They are the most humble, respectful & hospitable people Pakistan has to offer. Education is quite high on their priority list & it can be predicted that in the future that region will be at the top of our overall education rate. Above all unlike the image portrayed they are quite proud of their culture & heritage. They love their music & can surely give a tough competition to Punjabis when it comes to their love for dancing & have a great time. The musical programs lasted past midnight & we were told that this is a norm, not an exception.

The area’s history includes the presence & the spread of Buddhism which the locals are not ashamed of celebrating as part their heritage. There are three main Stupas known as Butkara among the locals. These locations are not some abandoned ruins but have been turned into tourist spots and the archaeology department’s presence can be seen. The same is true for the Swat museum, which unfortunately we could not visit as it was being renovated & therefore closed to the public for the time being.

As far as the Swat operation is concerned there are two main opinions, depending on who you talk to. One says that the entire thing was orchestrated from the installation of the Taliban to the subsequent operation. The other is that there was genuine trouble but the intensity was overhyped and after the operation the area has been thoroughly cleaned. Whichever version one agrees with, the undisputed result is that it is the locals that were the victims, from what they had to suffer as IDPs & the destruction that took place. An example is the PTDC’s hotel at Malam Jabba that was destroyed during the operation. It was built at the top most spot in the area. To imagine the impact of the sound of destruction is that area where the only regular sound are that of the wild birds is the trees, is enough to give you the chills.  

The media is not playing its part in the restoration of the image of the Valley but then our media is a total disappointment on the whole when it comes to building Pakistan’s image, therefore, the people should take it up & chip in as much as they can. This was one appeal that the locals made repeatedly, that do tell when you go back what you saw & experienced & encourage people to come visit.


Both the people & the army have been through more than their share of horror, the least we can do to reward their resilience is to help them rebuilt what they have lost. So the next time you are looking for a vacation spot, do consider Swat, the time spent there will result in some of the most cherished memories that you will carry with you.  

Following are a couple of videos for you to enjoy.

Rubab performance 

Traditional dance by the students of Saidu Medical College

Friday, August 31, 2012

Meeting the Chargé d’affaires Ambassador Richard Hoagland.

A couple of days ago I along with few other people active on the social media got an invitation from the US Consulate General Lahore to meet with the Chargé d’affaires Ambassador Richard Hoagland. The discussion theme was youth activism in Pakistan and the role & impact of social media. As social media was involved therefore, the discussion was live tweeted by the participants (@iftikherh @FatimaArif @nabihameher @arooojzahra @sabahat24 @usmannrana @manihammad @USCGLahore @miqazi @awaisaftab) with the hash tag #PakyouthAmb. The advantage of having a small group was that it was quite an interactive session where everyone got to present their view point in an informal environment.

Put the words Pakistan & America in the same space & the result is never going to be simplistic. There is no black & white, the entire thing is covered in the shades of grey. This current shade of grey also has a long history of a complex relationship that the two countries have shared and before you get bored with the repeated mention of grey & complex, let me tell you that this is not how our session started.

After the introductions were made, Ambassador Hoagland said, ‘Before you ask me questions, let me ask one question, what has happened to @majorlyprofound?’ The identity of this very interesting Twitter account and the associated blog has never been clear (there have been a lot of speculations though!). Then there are a lot of public figures now using social media to communicate with their audience/fans and lately, the Pakistani politicians have taken up Twitter with a lot of enthusiasm, even though apparently very few of them are operating their own accounts while the rest have left it on their media teams. So all those who have kind of outsourced their accounts, you people don’t have a secret here!

From here on the roles were reversed & for almost an hour it was the Ambassador answering our questions.  The first question put forward (obviously) was about the anti-US sentiment in Pakistan. To this the Ambassador responded that he feels that it is no more just an outright emotional response but an intellectual one. Any American can walk the streets of Pakistan & will be treated just like anyone else. Following this, one of the participants brought up the issue of drone attacks which have claimed more innocent civilian lives than the terrorist targets that they are supposed to be marking. The tweeters were divided on the issue, favoring the attacks while others were opposed to them. Then referring to the current army operation the Ambassador answered that it was Pakistan Army’s own decision and was not demanded by the US. In fact when they had asked General Kiyani as to how they can help, his response was that by staying out of it.

During the discussion (which took a 180 degree turn from social media) the Ambassador Hoagland commented that he is not comfortable with the ‘nanny image’ of the United States, instructing other countries on how to get about their business. A response to this from the participants was that it is more of the ‘turning their face the other way’ attitude that was causing the trouble. The image is that as long as US’s interests are met their stated morals and rules don’t matter but otherwise they need to be upheld. The eleven brutal years of Zia-ul-Haq (which have transformed the very core of what Pakistan was or was meant to be) were mentioned. The US or any other global power did not come to the aid of the people who were struggling against his regime. Public floggings, draconian legislatures (that still haunt us), the curbing of the freedom of expression, nothing was taken a note of. A similar attitude was observed in the Musharraff’s tenure as well.

This troubled history plays a key role in the widening of the trust deficit that the two countries have faced in the past & is what dominates the current status of the relationship as well. These current grey shades affect the people at a micro level as well. As on one hand they want cordial relations with the US & her people just like any other civilized society, while on the other hand the fear of US interference & the past experience opens a window of doubt & people want to distance themselves from associating with the US even if the association is in a positive manners. Even the developmental projects (construction of roads, education etc) that the US is involved in then are seen with skepticism. All this needs to be revisited & changed for a better future.     

As stated earlier, this was intended to be a social media related event, so to keep the theme alive we did somehow manage to come back to the topic. I will just mention the key points that were highlighted from the exchange of ideas on this topic. For one it was agreed upon to some extent that social media has made a considerable impact on the youth of Pakistan, though one opinion was that the impact is largely in the urban centers. Also, the social media does not reflect the majority opinion as the section of society active on social media is not representative of the majority population. Still the positive side is that this otherwise silent section of our society is now active & open to debate. Added to this all this social media activity is being observed closely, as it is yet to be proven that all this will turn into actual practical numbers in the coming elections. It is not just in the case of the election but other causes that are taken up & promoted through the platform of social media. Until they are translated into the real world with the same vigor, we won’t be seeing any real change around us.

We ended on the positive note of hope & optimism that things will change for a better future. 

p.s The Delicatessen, has my vote, so if you haven’t tried it yet please do. For me the judgement point for a cafe is its coffee more than anything else & both the coffee & the snakes were really good.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Old Book Shops Handing Out Memories

Old book shops are amazing places. The chances of getting unique titles & that too at amazing prices are much more compared to your regular book shops & the online book shops  (the general consensus at my end is that down with online book stores, they don't match up to the whole experience of book shopping).

Added to this books from old book shops transfer other peoples' connections & experiences with those books as well. I came across this biography of Sir Michael Redgrave in the mobile bookshop. As I started reading the book these newspaper clippings of Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph & one more publication whose name is not visible dated Friday, March 22, 1985, fell from the jacket cover where they were partially attached. There are no signatures on the book but whoever owned the book seems to be a huge fan. I have only seen a couple of films of Redgrave but now the movie junkie in me is tempted to explore more of his work! 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Layman’s Case for Young Doctors

After every crisis that Pakistan comes across, the optimists of this country (and I consider myself part of them) cling on to the hope of the people of this country. Whenever the issue of a failed state crops up, the counter argument is given that, it’s the Government that is failing, not the people. The people will move in the positive direction. However, this current crisis of the young doctors versus the Punjab government has somewhat jolted my belief in the strength of the people. The combination of blunt emotions and amnesia is pushing us in the pit. We have yet to develop the ability to look at an issue in a dispassionate manner.  

In no time the general public has placed the entire blame on the doctors and has labeled them as greedy, unethical, criminals, killers and what not. All this display of emotion is entirely based on the dose of misery that is being dished out by the media for the public appetite. From the entire animated public reaction one could assume that we are such a conscious society that the plight of the poor is the top priority of every living soul. What gets me confused is that where were these poor loving majority, when CM Shahbaz Shariff was distributing laptops like peanuts at the expense of ignoring the  condition of Government schools and primary education? The only reaction I saw then was ‘Laptop Shahbaz da, par vote Imran da’. Here’s your morally upright society for you.  

As far as the media and its ethics are concerned, I am not going to waste time and space by getting into its detail. How balanced a coverage they provide is not a secret. Media gate is not that old even for our collective amnesia prone condition. Even with all this out in the open the media propaganda was successful in portraying the young doctors as the villains. The counter efforts of the doctors through the social media were being labeled as the real propaganda by the people is reflective of our twisted minds. Suddenly, the torture of one of the most educated class is justified and well deserved.    

The question of who is to blame for this chaos and the loss of life still remains. Somehow I have not been able to side with the popular conclusion. The Hippocratic Oath is being referred to time and again in an attempt to remind the young doctors of their duties and how they are violating it. Shouldn’t the government be reminded of the oath that they have taken instead, of looking after the civil right of the people they govern, of providing them with the basic facilities of life and protecting their lives; most of all of proper governance which is missing from the start and the root cause of all the crises including this one as well. The Punjab government does not have a health minister, or a formal documented health policy for that matter is ample proof as to where the fault is, but you don’t say.

Everyone has a right to peaceful protest and the medical community is no exception. They are asking for a proper service structure which is their due. Their strike is not a unique one as a similar case in UK would testify. For all those who have been following the issue from the start would know that these protests turned violent when the state machinery unleashed its wrath and the police started raiding the hospitals as if in search of criminals (which should be noted that they are never able to get a hold on). Closing down the outdoors does not put at risk the lives of the patients as those needing immediate attention are shifted to emergencies. The emergencies and the indoors were operating, until they were raided and the young doctors hunted. How are they expected to be the messiahs under such circumstances and frankly speaking why should they?

Today it is this professional class that is being brutalized, next it could be some other profession as well. It is high time that some collective sense is developed and they be not left alone. To me this seems like a message by the government against demanding our just rights, while they go about unaccountable for whatever they do, from corruption to abusing women MPAs all in the name of democracy. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Khewra Salt Mines

So I got to visit the Khewra Salt Mines (the 2nd largest salt mines in the world), some days back and it was a refreshing experience. PMDC (Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation) deserves the credit for the improvements, making the place quite tourist friendly. (And, Yes! There were tourist, both local and foreigners, so in your face stereotype promoters!)

We owe the discovery of these salt mines to the sick horses of the 326 B.C battle between Alexander the Great and Raja Porous at the bank of river Jhelum, who licked the crop rocks and were cured. Following the horse steps, the humans then made their discovery and these mines got the title of ‘Museum of Geology’ as the rocks exposed here range from pre-Cambrain age to recent times. Before the British took over in 1849, the Janjua Rajas had the ownership here.

One starts to feel the stark difference between the temperatures, right outside the entrance of the mines. The pleasant cold air hits you, and is a big relief compared to the heat outside especially if you are there during this season.

To make things interesting for the visitors, the workers have named different spots inside the mine. If you want you can hire the electric tram that will take you to the ‘Chandni Chowk’, the main spot where different bifurcations of the mines are connected. However, the suggestion is that, if there are no other issues, you should walk there instead of taking the tram, it’s much more fun. You will spot some rare variety of rock salt added loaded with all that extra information that your guide will be happy to share. On your way to ‘Chandni Chowk’, if you are attentive enough, an opening in one of the sides will catch your eye and on a closer look, you will come across 103 constructed steps going up to the Asthma Clinic. Research has showed that, 8 hours in the mines per day for a specific number of days (depending on the patient’s condition), allergic asthma can be treated. For this a health resort has been established here.

The mine workers have built different monuments out of salt bricks and the effect of lights used is amazing. There is a post office, a mosque, a replica of Minar-e-Pakistan and an old canon used to shoot loose salt hangings is preserved in a base of salt bricks. Then there is Nathia Gali, named after one of our mountain resort town, as the salt there is pure white. The last spot in the mines is going to be a small corner where a tree’s root centuries old has been preserved between the mine walls as a fossil and it is the only such fossil there.

By the time you walk out of the mines, you would have had a long walk but there are going to be no signs of tiredness and as your guide will tell you with pride, ‘your respiratory system has been cleansed and you’ll feel the difference at least for a week, before the city’s pollution does the deed’.

Outside you are going to be greeted by goats of every size and color and they know how to play cute. Their presence is going to look odd at first, but then once they start nudging you in the hope of sharing your lunch (their way of demanding their share of tax) you’ll get used to them in no time. In case anyone is wondering, these goats are omnivores! And they like to pose for photographs too.      
Amongst the Salt mines lies a worn out Mazar of Syed Sheikh Salman and his wife. By the time the Mazar grabbed our attention it was time to hit the road, so all I could gather from the locals was that in yester years, a lion from the surrounding mountains would come down daily to pay his respects. A tree besides the twin graves was used by the devotees to tie ribbons and strips of cloths for the fulfillments of their Manats (wishes).   

The place holds a lot more history, geology and local lore than what I have mentioned (the entire trip inside the mines is going to last for 2 hours), but I won’t be going into the details here as my basic intention here is to share few of the photographs that I took. 

The surrounding rock mountains

Entrance to the mines, the tram track can be spotted
The electric tram on its way to Chandi Chowk
The guide showing the difference between rocks and salt
Cave walls
Black rock salt
Various salt forms hanging on the roof of the caves
103 stair steps leading to the Asthma Clinic
Salt bricked mosque used by the mine workers for their prayers
An old canon to shoot loose hanging salt
Salt crystal formation
Replica of Minar-e-Pakistan made from salt bricks
A pool of salt water
A cave tunnel, where work is in progress at the other end
Another Salt wall
An opening made for the ventilation purposes

Entrance to Nathia Gali
Salt in the Nathia Gali area
Surrounding walls of a salt pool
The other side of the same pool shown in the previous picture
Machinery used for mining work. This tunnel ends in a pool of salt water and the workers reach that spot from here

Roof of a section of the mines

Salt mount's reflection in the water

A section of the mines where, the workers beleive they can see the naturally carved picture of Allama Iqbal 

Three different shades of salt at generated from the same area
The tree fossil
Salt piles besides the path on the way out

The mountain view
The baby omnivore goat (One from the local clan)
Outside view of the Shrine of Syed Sheikh Salman

Shrine of Syed Sheikh Salman

A lamp made from salt
Decoration pieces made from salt bought as souvenirs 
Another variety of the salt lamps

An old construction outside the mines, once used as horse stable